Hot Water Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula - The Warmest Wakeup Call

If you had told me during my childhood that there was a beach where, if you dug a hole deep enough at a certain time of day, hot water would come up from the depths of the sand, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. But two and a bit decades in this country have been sufficient to make me realise New Zealand is full of natural wonders like Hot Water Beach.

After spending a beautiful night at a beachside DOC campsite, Port Jackson, on the tip of the Coromandel Peninsula, my girlfriend and I headed down the coast to the famed Hot Spot at Mercury Bay. Two hours either side of low tide, it is possible to dig down and access water heated by an underground hot spring. It is traditional to dig a hole big enough and deep enough to partially submerge yourself and recline in, effectively creating a totally free, wonderfully warm spa pool.

As luck would have it, the next low tide on the day we arrived was 1am. But we did some preparatory work: scoping out the beach, renting a shovel, rummaging through the spectacular chaos in the rental car for dry towels. A unanimous decision was made after dinner to nap, and this came easily in the sun-warmed tent. Somehow napping turned into the beginnings of what promised to be an undisturbed night’s sleep, and an alarm called us back from the sandman at midnight.

Armed with head torches, we were still bleary-eyed by the time we reached the shore, and found the beach surprisingly full for the wee hours. I immediately began digging, but the first three attempts were unsuccessful: my holes filled with cold water. It was horribly frustrating to be ankle-deep in water that wasn’t even moderately tepid when literally a metre away there were people relaxing in holes full of hot water sending steam into the night air.

A nearby bather offered me the use of his spa bath, but I was determined to be a hole-digging success. And on the fourth try, I was! Perhaps too successful; Hot Water Beach temperatures can get up to 64˚C, and I don’t think my hole was too far off that. I spent a good chunk of time running back between the hole and the ocean to cool my burning feet. I soon realised it was actually a good thing that the entire section of beach wasn’t hot, and rather was dotted with hot spots. The best thing to do was to dig a hot hole and a cold hole, and then join them together to create the ideal temperature.

We dug out a section deep enough for both of us to recline in, and spent a good twenty minutes soaking in the world’s most sustainably manufactured spa wearing nothing more than bras and undies, looking up at the full moon and the night sky. I’m not sure I could have handed the hot water if low tide had come in the middle of the day, when the sun was strong. Even with all the frantic hole-digging around us, it felt peaceful to be warm in the face of the night time chill. The clouds were few and the wind was minimal, and that evening was the best stargazing experience I’ve had to date.  So far as free activities in Aotearoa go, this one tops the charts. 

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This story and photos have been kindly supplied by Stephanie Grange as part of our Summer Holiday Writing Competition.  Love the commitment, heading out at 1am Stephanie!


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